There was a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the Western desert. They made their livelihood as shepherds, raising herds of sheep and goats. Their way of life was dying.
They depended on the scarce but available water from the desert water table and for years, there was enough. But with the expansion of the western desert cities like Reno and Las Vegas, water was becoming more and more scarce. Those cities tapped into the same aquifer that the Native Americans relied upon. The water was running out, and the herds were dying off.
An anthropologist became aware of the situation and realized that soon, those people would be gone and their culture would be lost. He went to live among them and study them; basically, he was cataloging the end of a civilization.
He became good friends with some of the leaders of the tribe, especially one of their wisest and most respected elders. The two would sit together at night and talk: about the world, about the desert, about the people. Basically, they discussed life.
One evening the anthropologist asked his friend, “Chief, I’ve noticed that so many of your people’s songs are about water. Why is that?”
The old man’s sharp eyes stared into the distance. “Water is life,” he answered. “Once we had water, and now we do not. And so we sing for what we do not have.”
Then the old man looked at the anthropologist and said, “I’ve noticed that so many of your people’s songs are about love.”
God is love. If we want to ever understand love or to truly experience love, we must never lose sight of that fact. It was for love that the Father sent his Son into the world to teach us and, ultimately, to die for us as the perfect sacrifice. It was for love that Jesus spent so much time teaching His disciples what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, because He wants for us to desire the Kingdom of Heaven and we cannot desire something if we are not aware of it. It is for love that Jesus warns us of the dangers of hell — of the dangers of being collected and prepared for burning — because Christ knows that it is good for us to fear hell.
Fools claim that hell is nothing but a myth designed to frighten the gullible into good behavior, but I ask you: if a parent is aware that a stove is hot, does that parent warn his child away from the stove because he knows that the child is gullible and wants to frighten her into good behavior, or does the parent warn his child away from the stove because he does not want to see his little child be terribly injured? Perfect justice demands that hell exists, for without it justice could not be perfectly satisfied. God sends no one to hell; individuals choose to separate themselves from God — from love itself — and so in justice must go to a place where God is not present to them.
Perfect love demands that God do everything He can to prevent us — His beloved children — from falling into hell. He still allows us our freedom, for without freedom we are not human and He created us to be human. Ultimately, we ourselves decide whether to accept love or to reject love. We decide whether to be a weed or to be wheat.
God gives us every possible aid in our desire to overcome the fallen urge to be the weed and instead to be the wheat He calls us to be. God is merciful, as the first reading tells us: “But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us.” Then the reading concludes with “and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
The psalmist today cried out to the Lord, “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” God’s goodness is without bounds. God’s mercy knows no limit.
“You, O LORD, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you,” the psalmist writes. “Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading.”
My prayer and my pleading: the importance of this cannot be overstated. God desires us to be in relationship with Him — to be in right relationship with Him. How do we do this? By attending Mass weekly, and even daily if possible; by frequent reception of the Eucharist; by frequent confession; by reading Holy Scripture — there are many ways to be in relationship with God. Notice that all of these ways I mention are united by prayer. The Eucharist is the height of prayer; confession involves prayer in both the act of confessing and, often, in the act of penance. Holy Scripture, when read prayerfully, is read profitably.
Even when we don’t know how to pray, God — in His love — comes to our rescue. “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness,” Paul writes, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
Paul reassures us that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God. The Spirit helps us when we cannot help our self… what an amazing act of love this is on the part of our God. What a reassurance it is to know that when we are on our journey toward God and we do not think we can take one more step or even find the path, that Our Lord is there to help us take that step, and put us back on the path.
If we want to know love, we must know God himself. And once we know, we must take action; prayer builds our relationship with the Lord and moves us closer to Him and the Kingdom. And as we move closer to Him, we will find ourselves becoming what we are called to be: true citizens of the Kingdom of God.